The world’s biggest annual SWAT training and weapons expo was met by hundreds of protesters on Friday blocking entrances to the highly anticipated international event in Pleasanton, California.
Dozens of groups banded together under the Stop Urban Shield Coalition, drawing in an estimated 500 people that locked arms to prevent attendees from entering the Alameda County Fairgrounds where they would only “share tactics of oppression and learn how to better control, harm and kill our community members,” Mohamed Shehk, media director for prison abolition group Critical Resistance, told teleSUR.
“We’re seeing both a massive increase the in militarization of policing, but also resistance to that and to policing in general,” he said. “So it’s important for us to fight a program like Urban Shield that expands the power of the police and especially when it comes to repressing protest.”
The coalition—which also includes groups like Xicana Moratorium Coalition, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, BAYAN USA and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration—shut down one of the training sessions. Police arrested 23 protesters for blocking traffic and failing to disperse, but all were released after being cited.
The four-day Urban Shield conference, with the slogan “Intense Training for Intense Times,” markets itself as emergency response and disaster training, but reporters at the conference found the highlights to be state-of-the-art weaponry like “less lethal” guns that shoot pepper spray and glassbreaker rounds and remote-controlled robots that shoot bullets.
The Stop Urban Shield Coalition had brought enough attention to the event that it kicked it out of Oakland in 2014 and gained the restraint of Pleasanton police.
“The protesters have been very cooperative and we’ve been working with them. Our goal is peace,” police lieutenant Kurt Schlehuber told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Shehk added that police “don’t want to add any more want attention” to the event by using the very repressive tactics the action was targeting—and that many of the protesters face in their own cities.
The vision of the coalition, though, goes beyond Pleasanton and the Urban Shield conference.
“Policing itself is inherently oppressive and has always been in place to control people, to harm and to enforce the status quo,” said Shehk. The annual protest is “not just to kick Urban Shield out of Pleasanton, (but to put) a full stop and to end it completely”—the conference, police militarization and policing as we know it today.